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Fight, flight, or freeze.

Those responses to fear are hardwired into your amygdala.

Freeze is the most common for leaders, and it can be a silent killer for your business.

A simple framework to understand the fear and overcome it will help you seize opportunities in the 2021-renewal while others are standing still.

You’ve seen it happen. You don’t start the business; you don’t invest in success because of past experiences or self-limiting beliefs about the future. 

Uncertainty heightens the fear of making the wrong decision. 

You cover the paralysis by delaying or asking for more information and new options. 

I’ve done it. I’ve seen it affect an American President, general officers, CEOs, and nonprofit boards and executive directors.

I learned the hard way that you have to get to the root cause of fear to address it.

Imagine a quad chart. 

On the east-west axis, you have past and future.

The north-south axis is success and failure.

1. Fear of past failure occurs when you tried something before, and it did not work out. A business initiative failed, an innovation tanked, you got fired or chewed out. “I can’t do this because I failed last time.”

2. Fear of past success happens when you succeeded at something – perhaps against the odds, and you worry that you cannot pull it off again. “There’s no way I can get those results again, and falling short will diminish me.”

3. Fear of future failure is widespread. You worry that your business or initiative will fail, and you will suffer the consequences. “I want to take this step, but what happens if it doesn’t work?

4. Fear of future success is more subtle. You believe that you will not be up to the challenge of managing growth, “I’m ok leading 10 people, but I cannot handle 50.”

5. Fear of the present uncertainty. Imagine a box in the center of the quad chart. You fear that you might make the wrong decision. “I don’t know if a recovery is coming in 2021, so I will wait and see before making a decision.”

These “freeze” responses keep you standing still. 

When you are standing still, and others are moving forward, you are losing ground.

It’s like stuffing your money into a mattress. 

You don’t lose the money, but inflation lowers its value, and you are missing opportunities for growth. 

Once you understand the nature of the fear, you can take steps to address it.

1. Fear of past failure. Identify the problems that led to the failure and put measures in place to prevent them from recurring.

2. Fear of past success. Reframe your measures of success. Focus more on developing others or creating different business lines, for instance, than meeting past targets.

3. Fear of future failure. Put together two or three viable options for reaching your goals and compare them. Create an action plan for the best option. Once you see how to achieve your goal, getting there becomes much easier!

4. Fear of future success. Determine what capacities you need to excel at the next level and develop them. Find the right support to help you succeed and avoid expensive mistakes along the way.

5. Fear of the present uncertainty. Review your options (to include doing nothing) and assess the risks and opportunities. Pick the best option and go with it. Your decision will probably work out. At worst, it is unlikely to be fatal, and you can make adjustments along the way.

What is your top takeaway from this article? Leave a comment below or email me directly: [email protected]

P.S.  If you’d like to discuss your 2021 goals, use this link to schedule the time that works best for you.

We will discuss your goals and obstacles during the call, and then I’ll offer you two or three action steps that get you moving forward. No sales, no B.S.

“I want my subordinates to make decisions,” Jim told me, “but they keep asking for permission.”

Why is that so bad, I asked him, you know they won’t make a wrong decision.

“The problem is that the decisions keep piling up on my plate. It’s like the salad bar at Olive Garden. Before you know it, you’ve got a mound of everything, and you lose your appetite for the main course. I feel like I can never get to the main course.”

Greens can be good for you.

“The problem is that I need to make my decisions – that’s the main course. My decisions are getting cold and stale because I’m choking on the salad bar. We’re losing opportunities because I’m in the weeds.”

That makes sense. What have you done to encourage your subordinates to make decisions?

“I tell them that’s what I want them to do. They nod in agreement. An hour later, the emails come in asking me permission to do this, that, and the other thing.”

What happened the last time someone made a poor decision?

“I kinda lost my mind.”

Does this conversation sound familiar?

I’ve had a version of it three times in the past week, which is why I’m writing this article for you.

The COVID pandemic and economic uncertainty have made people even more risk-averse.

Decisions that your direct reports should be making are piling up on your plate and reducing your bandwidth to do your job.

Here are three action steps that will help you boost people’s confidence to make decisions.

1. Define the decision-space. Have your direct reports outline the scope of their decision-making authority and boundaries. Discuss and refine. You’ll be able to reinforce the shared commitment to your common purpose as you do so. 

2. Set the expectations. Every time you lose your mind when someone makes an honest mistake, you discourage initiative.

Let people know how you will respond if a decision they make does not work out well.

If it’s a mistake of commission – someone erred when trying to do the right thing – then you need to underwrite the error and coach.

Underwriting the mistake will sustain their confidence that you won’t throw them under the bus. Coaching will help your subordinates learn from the experience.

A mistake of omission – laziness, ethical short-cuts, etc. – deserves punishment.

Walk your talk.

3. Practice. Rehearse the decisions and your responses if things go well or go poorly. When someone tries to put the ball in your lap, give it back to them, and review steps 1 and 2.

What’s your top takeaway about encouraging people to make decisions?

Let me know with a comment or email at [email protected]